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Why For do those raccoons have such big …

Jim Hill is back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, he talks about where you can find Oswald the Lucky Rabbit on the Disney lot, one of the more memorable aspects of “Pom Poko,” those strawberry fields in Anaheim, the Winnie the Pooh ride that Disneyland almost got as well as some travel magazine that features an article that was written by … Oh, it’s not important …

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First up, Michael F. writes in to ask:

Jim —

Do you know if the Walt Disney Company ever has plans to release the Oswald the Lucky rabbit shorts on DVD? As a Disney history buff, I’d love to be able to take a look at Walt’s pre-Mickey work. See of there are any hints of the greatness yet to come.

Have you heard anything about Disney putting together an Oswald collection, Jim? And if so, when can I expect to see this set of DVDs available for purchase in stores?

Michael F.

Dear Michael F.

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Michael. But I doubt that you’re ever going to see the Walt Disney Company release the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” shorts on DVD.

Why for? Well, you have to remember that the Disney Company doesn’t actually own the “Oswald” character and/or the 26 shorts that Walt & Ub Iwerks produced. The rights to those films (and — indeed — the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” character itself) actually belong to Universal Studios.

To explain: It was Carl Laemmle himself (I.E. The then-head of Universal Studios) who reportedly told film distributor Charles Mintz in early 1927 that he wanted a new cartoon series for Universal. To be specific, Carl wanted a cartoon that starred a rabbit.

As luck would have it, Mintz’s wife — Margaret Winkler Mintz — had been the producer of Walt’s “Alice” comedies. And given that that series of shorts (which cleverly mixed live action & animation) had pretty much run their course, Disney was now looking for a new project to tackle. Which is why Margaret suggested that Walt might be the perfect guy to make Carl’s wish come true.

Given that he was still really just getting started in Hollywood, Disney was grateful for the work. So Walt quickly signed the contract that Mr. & Mrs. Mintz were offering and immediately got to work on the “Oswald” series.

Of course, if Walt had read the fine print in his contract, he might have been not so quick to sign the deal that Charles & Margaret had offered him. For it turned out that — in spite of all the time & effort that he had poured into the creation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit — Disney didn’t actually own the rights to that character. The Mintzs did. Why is why Charles & Margaret were able to successfully wrestle Oswald away from Walt in 1928.

Mind you, turnabout is fair play. It seems that the Mintzs didn’t read the fine print of the contract that they’d signed with Universal. And — when it came right down to it — Charles & Margaret didn’t own the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit either. Universal Studios did.

Which is why — in 1929 — the Mintzs got squeezed out entirely. With Walter Lantz (who would later become known as the “father” of Universal Studios’ most popular cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker) then taking over as that studio’s in-house supervisor for the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” shorts.

Anyway … Getting back to Walt now …

Obviously, that was a hard lesson that Walt Disney had to learn back in 1928. That — in order to maintain control over the characters that you create — that you have to make sure that you retain all rights to your creations. But clearly Walt did learn something from the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” debacle. For Disney made sure to retain all of the rights on the next character that he created: Mickey Mouse.

And the rest of that story … I think you know.

Getting back to “Oswald” now: If you’d really like to see those shorts available for purchase on DVD, Michael, then the people you need to talk with are over at Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Perhaps if someone were to start an on-line petition and gather enough signatures, USHE might eventually consent to making a DVD of these early Walt Disney cartoons available to animation history buffs. Hey, it’s worth a shot …

Before I move onto my next “Why For” question, I think that it’s also worth mentioning that — while the Walt Disney Company doesn’t actually own the rights to the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” character — that doesn’t stop the Mouse from occassionally paying tribute to the Rabbit. Acknowledging Oswald’s important role in Disney Company history.

Of course, because of all the rights issues involved here, these tributes usually have to be done on the sly. My personal favorite is the mural that’s used to decorate the ceiling area of the studio store. You know, that retail establishment that’s located right on the Disney lot in Burbank?

Anywho … If you look over this mural, you’ll see Mickey & Minnie strolling up Mickey Avenue …

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

… The Three Little Pigs and Daisy Duck helping out with the studio’s prop and costume department (Please note that Mickey arch nemesis, Pete, now seems to be working with Disney Security and making life very difficult for Donald).

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

While over by the studio’s cafeteria, some of the Seven Dwarfs has sitting down for a snack. Pinocchio is going off for a stroll with a pair of the enchanted broom from “Fantasia” (Little wooden boy pals around with little wooden brooms. Makes sense to me). Jose Carioca is chatting with Panchito.

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

But who’s that sharing a park bench with Snow White?

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

You guessed it. It’s Walt Disney’s first cartoon star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Reading the sports page.

Here’s hoping that the folks at Universal are good sports when they learn that there’s an unauthorized image of Oswald on display in Disney’s studio store.

Next up, Richard T. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim,

Please, oh please tell us anything you know about Disney’s decision to release Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko to the home market in the U.S. I just (unsuspectingly) bought it at Target (it was in the KIDS’ section, by the way) and took it home ready for another magical Ghibli experience.

What I got was two hours of magical transforming raccoon testicles. Literally. That’s what the movie’s about.

What a surreal, hilarious, appetite-killing experience! I’m never gonna watch this film again, but I’m definitely keeping it for the sheer collector value. I mean, it’s got Disney’s name on the cover…it starts with a preview of Cinderella…and then…WHAM!

Okay, as you probably know, there’s much more to the story than…pouches. Warring tribes of raccoons make peace and band together to try to stop the devastation of their forest, brought on by the ever-expanding human population. It’s a sad tale, beatifully drawn.

But, within the first coupla minutes, you can’t help but notice that all the male raccoon warriors are drawn anatomically correct. And it’s not long after that an elder takes them aside and demonstrates how they have the power to…um…enlarge and transform…their…um…organic family jewel pouch.

Soon after, they start using these magic scrotums as weapons, attacking the construction workers. And nothing can prepare you for the tragic final battle in which…it literally starts raining Volkswagen-sized…um…

And I don’t even want to try to describe an elder’s final act of having the whole tribe stretch his…uh…and turning it into…er….

Now, I’m a bit of a prude, but I try to be open-minded. There’s an important, sad environmental tale here. But this has got to be the most weird-ass movie I’ve seen since Eraserhead. Chalk up another huge East/West cultural barrier, I guess.

So, I gotta know, did Disney WANT to release this to the U.S. market or is it a contractual obligation tied to the acquisition of the other Ghibli films? I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during corporate discussions on the content. The movie’s rated PG, by the way. No mention of magic scrotums on the box.

What I really missed was a documentary on the U.S. dubbing. I wanna see this cast laughing their heads off and staring in open-mouthed shock!

So, please, Jim, can you enlighten us on any behind-the-scenes info on the release of the strangest film ever to have Disney’s name attached?

Thanks! Keep up the great work!

– Richard

Richard —

Aw, come on. “Pom Poko” isn’t nearly as shocking as you make it out to be here. Okay, sure. The raccoon “pouches” portion of the story is a little bizarre. At least from the western point of view.

But when you get right down to it, the whole raccoons-using-their-testicles-to-attack-construction-workers is a relatively minor portion of the picture. The rest of the film is this rather sad tale about what happens to the native wildlife when man comes into the forest and then levels the animals’ habitat to make room for more housing.

Interestingly enough, Dreamworks currently has a new animated feature in the works — “Over the Hedge” — that features this exact same storyline. It even stars a raccoon. Though — when I saw some work-in-progress footage from that movie earlier this month — I don’t recall R.J. using his “personal area” to frighten away any suburbanites. But — then again — maybe that scene will turn up as an extra feature on the “Over the Hedge” DVD … So who knows …

Anyhow … As for your main question, Richard: “Did Disney WANT to release this (film) to the U.S. market?” … My understanding is yes. You see, all of the other Studio Ghibli titles that Walt Disney Home Entertainment has released (to date) have been pretty solid sellers. Which is why the company also wanted to bring “Pom Poko” to the marketplace too.

Copyright The Walt Disney Company / Studio Ghibli

Of course, Walt Disney Home Entertainment knew that there was some risk involved here. That there would undoubtedly be parents out there who would pick up “Pom Poko” sight unseen, just because the Disney name was on the box. And then these same people would pretend to be outraged because the Mouse had released a DVD where raccoons could magically inflate their scrotums. As if the very sight of such a thing would be enough to permanently scar their children.

So going into this DVD release, WDHE officials knew that that sort of reaction to “Pom Poko” was a very real possibility. But even so, they still went ahead and sent this Studio Ghibli film out into stores uncut (If you feel compelled, insert your own circumcision joke here).

So (forgive me for being somewhat impolite here) but it really took balls on Disney’s part to release a DVD that so prominently features … Well … balls. And while this Isao Takahata film may not be the strongest or most magical thing that Studio Ghibli ever produced, it’s still a pretty entertaining two hours. So if you’re looking for something different to slap in your DVD player, then I recommend that you pick up a copy of this new Walt Disney Home Entertainment release.

Next up, Carl writes in to ask:

After visiting Walt Disney World several times, I recently made my first trip to Disneyland. It was great! It seems like they have pretty much maxed out what the can do in the available space, but a tour bus driver (non-Disney) said that they are acquiring nearby land and plan to build one more theme park and one or two more hotels. Is this true? I never heard about these plans.

Ooh, there’s actually a couple of greats stories out there about that piece of property that that bus driver was referring to. Here. I’ll let Scott Liljenquist of Mouseketrips fill you in on the particulars. Scott?

Thanks, Jim. Hello to Carl, and thanks for the great question. Disneyland, situated on its 116 acres, certainly is more space constrained than Walt Disney World on it 47,000 acres. Space has always been at a premium at the Anaheim resort, and that has caused no end of problems for TDA (Team Disney Anaheim) as they have tried to find ways to move from the original one-park Disneyland to the two-park-plus-entertainment-district Disneyland Resort. Lack of space has necessitated such projects as North America’s largest parking garage, which had to be constructed when the former Disneyland parking lot was converted into Disney’s California Adventure.

One solution to the space problem has long been the strawberry farm located kitty-corner to Disneyland on the opposite corner of Katella and Harbor Boulevards. This property, originally owned by the Fujishige family, has long been sought after by Disney for future expansion.

Unfortunately, Disney did little to develop a friendly relationship with the Fujishige family. Various purchase attempts were made over the years, but mutually agreeable terms could never be reached. However, that didn’t stop Disney from listing the strawberry field in various Disney publications as a “future development site” which served only to further anger the property’s owner. Things got so bad that Carolyn Fujishige sent a not-so-pleasant letter to Disney in June of 1993 which stated, in no uncertain terms, that her family “would never sell [its] property to the Disney Company or to anyone that is affiliated in any way to the Walt Disney Company.”

Apparently Carolyn and her family forgot the old adage to never say never, as they finally gave in after decades of pressure from the Mouse and sold their 52+ acres to the Walt Disney Company in August 1998 for an estimated $90 million. Combined with the 28 acres or so of land adjacent to the old strawberry farms that Disney already owns (it’s currently used as Cast Member parking), a prime location for an additional theme park was finally available for planning and construction.


Copyright Anaheim / Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau

But, as we all know, the strawberry field sits vacant and Cast Members are still parking their cars on some of the most valuable real estate in California. Why For? It all has to do with the last new theme park Disney built on an old parking lot.

Disney’s California Adventure, which consumed the old Disney main parking lot, was, from the outset, considered by the suits at TDA to be a slam-dunk, no-brainer cash generating machine. Why, there was no way that visitors to the California resort wouldn’t flock to the second gate after spending a day or two at Disneyland. Disney was sure that they finally had the beginnings of a multi-day vacation destination similar to that other company property in Florida. Once the tourists flocked to the new Disneyland Resort, and the new resort hotels were filled to overflowing, well, there would be no choice but to build yet another theme park to handle the crowds.

Only it didn’t work out that way.

Disney’s California Adventure, built on an impossibly tight budget and with overly modest standards and objectives, has failed to pull the number of visitors that were originally planned. In fact, various sources report that the park has never, since its opening day, met its expected daily visitor count as it was originally designed. Only since that visitor count goal has been revised drastically downward has the park been able to be considered a “success” of any kind.

Faced with this meager reception to its costly (about $1.4 billion) new theme park, Disney quickly shelved any plans for a third gate. The focus now, according to those inside the company, is on continual and gradual improvements to try and salvage DCA. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the new Block Party Bash, and the upcoming Monsters, Inc.- themed attraction are all a result of this emphasis on improving the overall visitor experience and driving the attendance numbers to more acceptable levels.

So, Carl, that’s the long answer to your question. The short answer is that, although Disney does indeed own the old strawberry field property, and although they would love to put that land to use as a third gate for the Disneyland Resort, there just isn’t any budget right now to do so with all of the emphasis ear-marked for DCA.

As for what is/was/has been planned for the old strawberry fields – I know a guy who knows a whole lot about that subject. Someone who has lots of rumors and inside info on the various concepts that have been batted around at WDI. Maybe we could convince Jim to further enlighten us. Well, after he finishes his Light Magic series, of course. And after he finishes his Star Tours series. And after he finishes his Tower of Terror series. And after…..oh, never mind.

Hey! I am actually working on completing that “Star Tours” series (See the bottom of this article for details). Anyway …

Next up, Buzz Lightbeer writes in to say:

Jim —

My family and I just got back from Disneyland. This was our first trip to the park since “Country Bear Jamboree” got torn out to make room for that new “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” ride. What a disappointment. To be honest, after hearing all about Tokyo Disneyland’s “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt,” I was expecting something pretty amazing from the Disneyland version of this attraction. But what I got instead was a standard dark ride.

I know Disneyland’s version is basically a clone of Disney World’s “Winnie the Pooh” ride. But why did the Anaheim theme park get the cheapo Orlando version rather than the super-cool Tokyo version? Doesn’t Disneyland deserve E-Ticket rides anymore?

Love the site. Keep up the good work.

Buzz Lightbeer

Dear Buzz —

Well, here’s the thing. The Imagineers actually did want to bring “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” to Disneyland. But Paul Pressler, the then-President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, vetoed WDI’s proposal. Opting instead to put a clone of the more affordable Orlando version into the Anaheim theme park.

Don’t believe me? okay. Then let’s take a look at Bruce Gordon & Jeff Kurtii’s “The Art of Disneyland” book. Which features early concept art for a number of rides, shows and attractions that have been constructed at the Anaheim theme park over the past 50 years. Below, you’ll find an early presentation image for Disneyland’s “Winnie the Pooh” ride. (“How early?,” you ask. The book lists this painting as being created back in 1998. Which means that the Imagineers were talking about putting a “Pooh” attraction into Disneyland before WDW’s “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” ride even opened at the Magic Kingdom back in June of 1999).

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

“Big deal,” you say. “I see an attraction just like the one that was eventually built at Disneyland. It’s in the same location. It seems to feature some of the same show scenes. What’s so significant about this concept painting?”

Well, as they say, the devil’s in the details. If you look at this close-up of the painting …

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

And this close-up …

Copyright The Walt Disney Company

You’ll notice that the Disneyland version of this attraction doesn’t have the exact same vehicles that the WDW version has. Or even the “bee-hicles” that the Anaheim version of “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” eventually ended up with. But — rather — the hunny pots that guests ride in as they do through Tokyo Disneyland’s “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” ride.

So you see what I’m saying here, folks. The Imagineers tried to get “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” built at Disneyland. Only to have Pressler shoot that idea down. Insisting that this E-Ticket be trimmed back to a more affordable (and much less exciting) C-Ticket.

The end result is … Disneyland is now stuck with a virtually brand new attraction that is already a walk-on. People just aren’t all that excited about a plain vanilla version of a “Winnie the Pooh” dark ride. Which is why they no longer hustle all the way out to Critter Country in order to get on line for “Many Adventures.”

Would Disneyland guests have still been excited if the Imagineers had built “Pooh’s Hunny Hunt” instead? An attraction that featured a state-of-the-art ride system, full blown AA figures as well as elaborate special effects? To be honest, it’s hard to say. But I can’t help but think that that sort of attraction would have be a lot more appealing to tourists than what Disneyland actually ended up with.

And speaking of “appealing to tourists,” our last question this week comes from Soshanna C. Who writes in to say:

Jim —

I just received the September issue of Arthur Frommer’s “Budget Travel” magazine in the mail. And I noticed that the cover mentions an article where “Two ‘Disney Dweebs’ spill their juiciest secrets.” Since I only know of one person on the planet (You!) who calls people “Disney Dweebs,” I quickly opened up the issue and found your & David Koenig’s article.

Congratulations! I really enjoyed that story and hope that it will be the first of many that you write for “Budget Travel.” Though I have to wonder why you haven’t yet told JHM readers about your appearance in this pretty prestigious publication. Are you embarassed by the article for some reason?

Just wondering,

Soshanna

Dear Soshanna

The reason that I haven’t mentioned the Frommer’s article (’til now, anyway) is that … Well … I’m not actually embarassed by the article. It’s more like I’m shy.

Look, I know. It seems somewhat bizarre that a guy whose website prominently features his own name is somewhat reluctant when it comes to self-promotion. But the fact of the matter is that I’m really kind of a goon when it comes to stuff like this. 

I mean, it always feels like I’m bragging if I say something on the site like “Hey, I’m in ‘Budget Travel’ this month” or “I just wrote a new set of ‘Behind the Scenes with Jim Hill’ inserts for the 2006 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” Which is why I tend to keep my mouth shut about my outside gigs.

I figure that people come to JHM not to hear me boast about what newspaper I’ve just been interviewed by and/or what documentary I’ll soon be appearing in. The way I see it, people come to this website for stories. Not stories about me, mind you. But stories about the Walt Disney Company, films that they’re working on, attractions that they almost built, interesting bits of history, etc. You get the idea, right?

Which is why I try and keep the self promotion stuff to a minimum around here. Though — what with that JHM unauthorized Disneyland history CD finally going on sale next month — I imagine that Cory & Nancy will want me to start doing some promotion for that product soon. Hopefully though we’ll be able to keep that from getting too obnoxious.

Anyway … I’m glad to hear that you like that “Budget Travel” article, Soshonna. Though — truth be told — I think that David Koenig did a much better job with his Disneyland story than I did with my Disney World piece. But hey, what are you gonna do?

Well, what I hope you folks are gonna do is have a great weekend. But be sure and come back on Monday for the start of a week-long look back at Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration. And — if you’re lucky — who knows? Maybe a new installment of my long overdue “Star Tours” series. Or two. Or possibly even three.

That’s it for today. Talk to you later, okay?

jrh

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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